Tuesday, March 18, 2008

March 18

The most destructive tornado in US history touched ground on this date in 1925. After touching ground outside Ellington, Missouri, the F5 twister spent the next three hours carving a thousand-yard path through southern Illinois and southwestern Indiana. Along the way, its winds -- which reached 300 miles per hour -- turned everything in its way to rubble, killing nearly 700 people, injuring more than 2000, and destroying well over $16 million dollars worth of property.

In Illinois, where the greatest destruction took place, entire towns -- Parrish, West Frankfort, De Soto, and Murphysboro among others -- were almost completely obliterated. In the village of De Soto, 69 people died, half of them children attending a school that collapsed in the storm. A journalist visiting De Soto the next day noted that
Only a dozen houses remain standing and all of these are damaged with roofs and porches missing. Piles of brick and timbers fill the streets, trees are split and uprooted. The scene resembles that of a World War battlefield, except than on a battlefield the victims are men. Here they are mostly women and children. Many of the men escaped [because] they were away from home, mostly at work in the coal mines, and were out of the tornado’s path
The destruction of Murphysboro was even more thorough. There, 243 people died as the tornado whipped half the town into splinters.

The US Weather Bureau had predicted “rain and strong shifting winds” for March 18, 1925. In the years after the Tri-State Tornado, forecasters developed a better system for forecasting and tracking tornados. They also began actually using the term "tornado," which the Bureau had officially nearly 40 years earlier.

On the 12th anniversary of the Tri-State Tornado, a natural gas leak at a school in New London, Texas, when a shop instructor turned on an electric sander. The force of the blast actually lifted an entire section of the building into the air before it crashed and disintegrated. At least 300 children died, making the New London Explosion the worst school disaster in American history.